Expectations are the best and worst thing to happen to relationships. Whether we should have expectations in a relationship or not, we all have them. Many relationship expectations are rooted in our upbringing and our past romantic experiences.
Plenty of relationship expectations are healthy.
And plenty will ruin your life together.
What expectations should you have in a relationship?
To help you navigate this complicated tangle, here are 8 relationship expectations to let go of and 8 realistic expectations keep in their place.
1. Let Go: Being the center of their universe
Keep: Being noticed
News flash: you are not everything to your partner. Their world does not actually revolve around you. You take up a huge amount of space in their mind, heart, and everyday life, but there are other things there too: friendships, work, hobbies, family, and himself.
You cannot expect a man to drop everything for you all the time. You cannot expect endless money and gifts. You cannot expect to always be invited. This is normal and healthy. You may be a couple, but a couple is made up of two distinct individuals.
But you should be noticed. Have you ever been in a busy crowd and for some reason, you are able to notice something very particular? One woman’s earring, a child’s laugh in the midst of talking voices, a specific book on a shelf? This is noticing.
In a sea of busyness, monotony, and general life craziness, you partner should notice you in the crowd. Your needs, your feelings, your smile, etc. This doesn’t mean they only see you. After all, nobody is only responsible to one person. But you should always be on their radar.
2. Let Go Of: Same opinions
Keep: Same core values
I am a moderate democrat. My boyfriend is a moderate republican. We, obviously, do not see the world in the same way. We have plenty of different political views and lead to many “lively discussions.”
This is okay. If you wait to find somebody who shares each and every one of your opinions, you will probably die first. Nobody will have the same exact views on big topics: politics, religion, child-rearing, financial investments, etc. Nobody will have the same views on the smaller topics either: what time to eat dinner or which way the toilet paper should go.
Embrace this difference of opinion as a way to keep things interesting and alive.
On the other hand, you should share core values. These are the deep-rooted ideas that are deal breakers, the hill to die on, the reason your heart beats. Hold out for somebody who can connect with you here. For example, my boyfriend and I may disagree come election time, but we both share a core value that fear is not allowed to dictate our lives.
3. Let Go: Expecting them to read your mind.
Keep: Healthy boundaries.
As long as your partner ever leaves the house, he will talk to and interact with other women. He may even see them every single day at work and know them well. Getting jealous over your partner’s regular everyday interactions with the opposite sex will only make you a ball of anxiety and make him feel untrusted.
You either trust or you don’t. If you don’t trust, you have no reason to be together.
Obsessing about every text message, phone call, lunch meeting, and “what is he really doing when he’s out with the guys?” sort of things is unfair. If a man were to obsess about your every interaction and move, we would say he is controlling and maybe even abusive.
You can, on the other hand, expect healthy boundaries. Maybe he chats with his female coworker everyday, but he chooses to not share intimate details about your relationship. You can expect that he make small decisions that would not break the trust you have for him.
4. Let Go Of: Your partner completing you
Keep: Loving yourself
There may never have been a more detrimental highly-quoted romantic movie line than Jerry McGuire’s: you complete me. Nobody can ever complete you. You were already born whole. Putting an expectation on another to fill in the holes where you feel incomplete is a surefire way to destroy your relationship.
If you do not already love yourself, if you do not already feel like a full human being, if you do not already have satisfaction, you will never find it in another. Those things come from within yourself.
The point of partnering with another is to find somebody who will simply hold hands with you and join you on the journey of life. Expecting more will sabotage your relationship. It will keep you from growing, it will place to much pressure on him, and it will keep your relationship unhealthy.
Sure, a partner may make you better. They probably will help you to achieve new heights you didn’t even imagine. But that’s where it ends. You’re completed. Find a way to love that completed self and then find somebody who loves you just the way you are too.
5. Let Go Of: Needing a certain response
Keep: Needing to be cared for
I’m a writer. I’m a reader. I’m a words person. My #1 love language is words of affirmation. This is the opposite of my “man of few words.” So when I would expressively, loudly, and emotionally share my heart or vent for 30 minutes straight, he would barely say anything in return – and it would always be softly spoken.
I wasn’t getting the response I wanted (AKA the way I would respond). I thought that meant he didn’t care or wasn’t listening. Then I would start noticing little actions throughout the week that proved he not only listened, but was also doing everything in his power to care for me and help the situation.
Because we are different people and our brains our wired differently, we cannot expect certain responses. Whether in a fight, in a romantic moment, in a practical conversation, or hanging out with a group of friends, partners will think, interact, communicate, and respond differently.
The point isn’t to make your partner into a clone of yourself; the point is to expect that he is listening and caring for you well.
6. Let Go Of: Having great sex each time
Keep: Having a great sex life
Nobody has great sex every time. Sex can be awkward. Sometimes you don’t feel well. Sometimes it’s just not working even if the candles are lit and the wine is flowing. The truth is – it may not just be the one time. Sometimes we may go through periods of “off” sex.
That’s why it’s called a sex life. In regular life, there are ups and downs. Good days and bad days. Sickness and health. A good life is about an overall experience and the same is true with sex in relationships.
Laugh when something goes wrong. Have patience when someone else is busy or not feeling well. Embrace the ups and downs as part of the joy. It’s not going to be great each time, but we can change our perspective on what great really is.
While it’s up to each partner, having the expectation of an overall great sex life is perfectly reasonable. Each couple is different in what qualifies as a great sex life. This could include different desires on frequency, adventure, openness, etc.
7. Let Go Of: All the same interests
Keep: Appreciation of interests
I love novels. My man hates to read. He likes scientific inventions. I barely passed Intro to Biology for Non Majors in college. We don’t like all the same things, but we appreciate each other’s interests.
Sometimes you will adopt some of your partner’s interests. Sometimes you will keep them to yourself. Both of these are tremendously healthy.
Since my boyfriend is an oil painter, I quickly and genuinely fell in love with oil paintings and classical realism in a way I never had before. I adopted that interest. But he can keep his science to himself. I’ll listen while he shares something exciting about science. I appreciate it. But it’s still not my thing. It’s his.
We’re different people. It’s okay to not share every interest. Just appreciate that the person you love loves doing that thing.
8. Let Go Of: Having easy, perfect in-laws
Keep: Respectful in-laws
It is rare to have an easy time with your partner’s family. Sometimes it’s just that one difficult person. Sometimes it seems like his whole family is nuts.
Keeping an expectation that your relationship with your in-laws (whether you are married or not) will be simple and carefree is setting yourself up for disappointment. There will be drama. You are blending your way of doing things with their way of doing things, and that’s not easy.
You can, however, cultivate respect. They may not like how you choose to live your life, but you can set up a boundaries. Do not allow them to criticize or control your life. For some in-law relationships that requires only a few conversations. For others, it may need time apart and real negotiation.
You can also expect your partner to have your back. It’s not about putting him on the battle line and making him choose sides. It’s about being a team. If your partner is constantly throwing you under the bus when it comes to his family, it’s time to have a serious conversation or seek help.
Not having any expectations is not a realistic way to enter a relationship. After all, we need to make sure we keep our minds and hearts at a good place. Setting these boundary-driven expectations can help. But there are plenty of expectations that can stand in the way of your relationship, and knowing which to let go of can save your relationship.